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Oxygen to Flame
“People in the arts often assume that applying the arts to social purposes diminishes the art; art should be for arts' sake. Teaching artists at [settlements like the Jane Addams Hull-House], though, rediscovered that the arts are for people's sake. The need to communicate, connect and express ourselves is fundamental and biological.” —Nick Rabinkin in “Teaching Artists and the Future of the Arts” for The Huffington Post
“However, there is one role in the arts that defies [George Bernard] Shaw's slogan [that he who can does; he who cannot teaches]. The role is variously named 'visiting' or 'residency artist' and 'artist-educator,' but the emerging consensus term is teaching artist. Teaching artists come from every artistic discipline, and they use a dynamic balance of skills in art and in teaching that make them remarkably effective educators and crucial resources to the arts world.” —Eric Booth in “The Emergence of the Teaching Artist” in Art Times
The uncertainty of the artist's life is one of its most tantalizing appeals. While that same uncertainty has the potential to terrify those craving security, that uncertainty also has great potential for adventure. Imagine a treacherous footpath that leads to a vista of open skies, steep mountains, and dramatic valleys. The commuter toll road doesn't offer the same view.(Just mind the cliff.) If I run the danger of romanticizing the artist's life, it is with the best of intentions. For if someone didn't take the risk, we would not have teaching artists.
Teaching artists are distinct from arts teachers in that they are artists who lead occasional seminars and workshops to engage and empower a specific population to make art. Arts teachers, whether visual, performing, or literary, generally work full-time at a school to, at least in theory, teach the next generation of artists. A teaching artist is understood to be an expert artist; an art teacher is understood to be an expert teacher and may or may not be an expert artist. A teaching artist is first and foremost an artist. But an arts teacher's calling is more likely to be teaching. Neither is “better” or “more important” than the other. The jobs are just different.
Becoming an arts teacher requires many hours of practice as a teacher. Becoming a teaching artist requires many hours of practice as an artist. In order to work as an arts teacher, you must earn your certification. You do not need to be certified to work as a teaching artist, but you must have established a track record as an accomplished artist. Teaching artists tend to be freelancers; sometimes (read: rarely) they are contracted for several months or even a couple of years as a side but regular gig to their art-making. But, even then, teaching artists devote more of their professional and emotional time and energy toward writing or acting or painting than they do inspiring students in a classroom.
One of my more recent teaching artist experiences took place at WriterHouse in Charlottesville, Virginia. This community meeting space holds writing workshops and seminars in addition to author readings and other literary events. Based upon my background in nonfiction writing and documentary film and photo media, I had the privilege of leading a day-long seminar on documenting memories using words and images. The intimate setup allowed me to advise five students, each of whom had brought personal materials, such as a family photo album or a journal, in telling a story only they could tell. This fascinating bunch included a federal lobbyist, a registered nurse, a retired social worker turned calligrapher, a laundromat owner, and a Medicaid analyst.
I formatted the seminar mostly as a simple show-and-tell. After establishing a safe space, I encouraged each student to share her materials and talk about what story she might tell in a book, magazine piece, documentary film, or other medium of her choice. Then the other students had the chance to comment and ask questions. I would then recommend resources, reference similar projects I had seen, and bring in examples from my own body of work. We perused everything from a collection of autobiographical poems to a family sketchbook in our hours-long salon. Toward the end, everyone participated in a writing exercise: Write about a single memory and explain how you might present that memory visually. Then each student shared her writing and idea with the group. We ended with a brief Q&A about topics brought up that day, from the technicalities of scanning to archival research protocol.
My role at the seminar was that of a mentor. I do not have training in pedagogy. I do have training and practical experience in writing and telling stories through photography and film. My students looked to me not because I necessarily have a scholarly knowledge of documentary studies, but because I have actually realized documentary writing, film, and photography projects from start to finish. I do not know all of the history and theory behind documentary studies. What I do know is how to conceptualize and execute a documentary project.
If you aspire to be a teaching artist, I urge you to work on your craft. Once your work has achieved regional or national acclaim, think about the population you want to teach and what you might create with them. Do you want to teach a one-day writing workshop at a prison, for example, and publish a chapbook of inmate's poetry about childhood? Once you've come up with an idea, come up with a plan. Figure out which organization to approach, what materials you will need, and what sort of funding is available. Your city or state is likely to have grants available to teaching artists or there may be nonprofits in your area that specifically seek out teaching artists.
Go forth and make art.
#OurWorld #Brains #Education #TeachingArtist #ArtTeacher #ProfessionalArtists #AdviceForArtists #BuildingAnArtsCareer
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